• Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Vulnerable children ‘must be at the front of the queue’ for vaccine

Dec 23, 2021

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A leading child immunisation specialist has called for children with health conditions to be prioritised for coronavirus vaccines, as parents struggle to secure bookings and advocates warn that children with disabilities are being left at risk of severe COVID-19.

Children with “a major medical problem” such as cancer, chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disease, down syndrome and cerebral palsy should be “pushed to the front of the queue,” infectious disease pediatrician Professor Robert Booy said.

Children with serious illnesses should be prioritised for the COIVD-19 vaccine, a leading immunologist says.Credit:Fairfax Media

The University of NSW professor, who is an affiliate at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, said GPs, pharmacists and state health authorities must ensure the vulnerable status of seriously ill children was factored into their booking systems.

“When parents ring up to book, if they say my kid is particularly vulnerable, they should prioritise them,” Professor Booy said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt this week urged Australian parents to embrace the COVID-19 vaccination for young children, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine for use among 5 to 11-year-old children on December 5.

But some parents, including those with medically fragile children, have struggled to find a booking, despite the federal government initially stating that bookings for appointments from January 10 would open on December 15.

Melbourne father-of-three Matt, who asked for his last name not to be used, said he had finally managed to book his children’s vaccines on Tuesday after spending “many hours on the phone daily” for almost a week, searching for a provider.

After searching the federal government’s Vaccine Clinic Finder website, Matt said the closest location that came up with a clinic in Tasmania.

“My local clinic isn’t taking bookings yet,” he said.

“I have three kids in the 5-to-11 age bracket, all having to home school and still on lockdown waiting for this vaccine. One is a severe asthmatic, one is a slight asthmatic, I am immune compromised … Why can we not get children with health issues immunised immediately?”

Some parents have found it easier to locate vaccine bookings through the HotDoc website.

Professor Booy said the Therapeutic Goods Administration needed to carry out “extensive batch testing” on the doses for young children and monitor real-time safety data for this age group emerging from the United States.

Research has shown the Pfizer vaccine, administered in a 10-microgram, one-third dose of the jab given to adults and teens, is up to 91 per cent effective in children and safety data to date shows that adverse effects are rare.

Mary Sayers, chief executive of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, said some children needed to be sedated to receive their vaccine, while those with autism and sensory issues should have access to quiet spaces within vaccination hubs.

“We know that there are very many families who are still isolating because their children are immuno-compromised,” Ms Sayer said.

“Vaccinations in some ways will open up their lives from that fear. But we’ve found throughout the whole pandemic for children with disabilities, they’re often left behind.”

She said governments should learn from the mistakes of the rollout of vaccines for 12-to-15-year-olds, saying families of children with disabilities “had to do significant amounts of work to get their child vaccinated”, reporting issues with the booking system, knowing if they were eligible, proving eligibility and not being able to book with GPs.

“There is a need for urgent action to identify which children and young people with disability have not been vaccinated and to provide appropriate support,” Ms Sayer said.

“Without this there, is a risk that we will see significant levels of severe disease from COVID-19 with this group.”

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